U Magazine
U Magazine
UCLA Health
David Geffen School of Medicine

Stitching for Advocacy

  Mali village life quilt
  Mali village life quilt assembled by Dr. Helen Blumen and the members of her quilt guild.
Photo: Dr. Helen Blumen

Helen E. Blumen, MD ’75 (RES ’78), practiced internal medicine in Santa Monica, California, for more than 10 years. Since 1991, she has lived in Chevy Chase, Maryland, where she has worked in a variety of nonclinical roles, focusing on evidence-based appropriate medical care. She currently is a principal in the health practice of Milliman, Inc., a consulting firm that provides actuarial and related services.

I always have considered myself first and foremost a doctor, even though I haven’t been a full-time clinician in a long time. So I have always made time for face-to-face clinical work, volunteering in various local clinics, serving low-income patients, on a part-time basis. When I recently moved on from one of them, I decided to see if there was a way to use my hobby of quilting to help other people.

The Advocacy Project (AP) is a nonprofit organization that works to help marginalized communities around the world to tell their stories as a way of producing social change. My quilt guild was fortunate to be able to partner with AP in creating two quilts related to the 2012 conflict in northern Mali. AP worked with an organization in Mali, Sini Sanuman, to teach women who were recovering from the physical and emotional traumas of sexual violence to create embroideries that communicate what happened to them.
The idea was then to produce a quilt that can be used to advocate for this community of women. My quilt guild embraced the challenge of working with the Malian embroideries, interspersing Malian cotton brocades and mud-cloth panels among the embroidered panels. We divided the panels into two groups. One of the quilts explicitly depicts acts of war and sexual violence, while the other conveys gentler images of village life.

Now that the quilts are finished, their photos and stories have been posted to the AP website. There are plans to exhibit them in the Washington, DC, area, in New Jersey and, later this year, in Germany. I am hopeful that we can find other exhibition venues, and I am looking for another volunteer opportunity to quilt for a cause.

Learn more about the Advocacy Project here, or view photographs of the quilts here.


Add a comment

Please note that we are unable to respond to medical questions. For information about health care, or if you need help in choosing a UCLA physician, please contact UCLA Physician Referral Service (PRS) at 1-800-UCLA-MD1 (1-800-825-2631) and ask to speak with a referral nurse. Thank you.